Car reviews - Holden - Tigra - coupe-convertible
Cute looks, comfortable cabin, best-of-both-worlds convertible
Room for improvement
Slightly tricky gear shifting, interior not as classy or exciting as exterior, some practicality flaws, no automatic option, inconvenient boot operation
23 Sep 2005
By CHRIS HARRIS
HANDS up those who thought that tiny hardtop convertibles needed to look silly?
Like, for instance, the now-defunct Daihatsu Copen that was sold here by Toyota until it pulled the pin on its bottom-rung Japanese brand.
If you reckon silliness is a given in cars like this, may we suggest you rush down to your nearest Holden showroom and ask the nice man if you can have a look at the new Tigra?
Doing so, you might find that balanced, attractive styling is not denied pint-size concepts such as this at all.
The Tigra (and it was not invented by A.A. Milne) is based on the now-shelved Holden Barina and borders on classy to look at. It is the sort of thing buyers inclined towards something like a Mazda MX-5 could feasibly prefer.
It might not deliver the pure sports car experience of the iconic Mazda, but it’s a neat way of getting a little wind in your hair and sun on your face because, unlike the MX-5, you can also choose, at the push of a button, to shut yourself securely away from it all under a snug steel roof.
Cruising country-bound on a wild, wet day with the roof up is a quiet, relaxed experience in the Tigra, unaccompanied as it is by the buffeting of a canvas soft-top, or the intrusion of excessive wind and road noise.
If you like open-air motoring, but not the compromises it brings, the Tigra is a compact convertible that can be as comfortable and quiet as a conventional coupe.
The $35,000 baby was designed in a joint operation involving Opel in Germany and the French coachbuilder Heuliez.
It came here in October 2005 to compliment the company’s small-car range and fits below the bigger, four-seat, canvas-top Astra convertible that has been selling up a storm for Holden.
In a segment where style is everything, the little Tigra is a perfect fit with its combination of cheeky looks and unquestionably clever function.
It sits alongside cars like the Peugeot 206CC but undercuts it on price because it only comes in one format – a four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission.
In the view of many, it also scores because of its more harmonious styling. It’s a bit wider, a bit longer, and a tad heavier than the Peugeot. And wider, and longer, than donor Barina - as well as a lot heavier.
The weight is well taken care of by the exclusive adoption of the 1.8-litre engine that was available in the Barina SRi and is still used in the latest Astra. Its 92kW and 165Nm cope quite nicely with the Tigra’s 1248kg.
If there’s plenty to like about the Tigra’s style, there’s plenty to admire about its packaging too.
The two-seat interior provides room enough even for tall passengers, and the boot, as is the case with other hardtop convertibles, is capable of swallowing quite a load provided the roof is in the up position. It has the tail-high shape that comes with this sort of design, made necessary by the need to stow the all-metal roof.
The boot space, roof up, makes regular soft-tops like the MX-5 look almost ridiculous. In the Tigra, the boot will swallow as much as 308 litres ands still accommodate a full-size (steel) spare. Open the roof and all that origami architecture denies you of most of this, leaving just 147 litres in a claustrophobic pocket hidden underneath.
Still, even that is about the same as the current Mazda MX-5, which doesn’t even have a spare. And, in the cabin behind the seats, is a cavernous 70-litre slot big enough to take a normal briefcase.
The boot opening/closing procedure is a bit strange. It is power operated by pressing the release button located at the rear, while to close it, the button has to be held until the lid is completely closed.
If you let go, the hydraulics pause for a few moments, processing what has happened, and re-open it again. Not a pleasure in the rain.
The cabin itself is redolent of Barina, although this isn’t as bad as you might think.
Remember, this is a pretty cheap tin-top convertible, so if you only get velour trim, manual seats and a straight Barina dash, that’s offset by the disappearing roof and the much lower-slung driving position that offers at least seat height adjustment - if not variable lumbar support and a two-way steering column.
Visibility, generally, isn’t bad, although the thick A-pillars do block the peripheral view, and the rear three-quarter C-pillar view suffers some, but not all of the shortcomings of a fabric-top convertible. The view directly out the back is quite good though, even with the mesh wind blocker in place.
The Tigra is kitted out in a way that leaves little to add, with cruise control (a bit fiddly, with a non illuminated stalk, and no dash indication that it is activated), heated external power mirrors, trip computer, aim-adjustable headlights, leather-rim steering wheel, power windows (one-touch down for the driver), air-conditioning, "drilled" floor pedals and a decent-enough four-speaker, 80-Watt Blaupunkt sound system with single-CD player and MP3 compatibility.
An optional mesh wind-blocker fits between the twin roll bars behind the seats.
Passive safety elements include dual front and side airbags, anti-submarining seats, breakaway clutch and brake pedals and seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters.
As you would expect, raising or lowering the roof is a simple operation – although not entirely automatic, as the sometimes catchy and annoying twin latches either side of the windscreen must be released before the lowering operation can begin.
Once this is done, the Tigra transforms itself in about 18 seconds, which must be close to a record.
To drive, the minute convertible doesn’t really bring the Barina to mind, even if the driveline is the same. The clutch/gearshift has a lot of that European awkwardness that makes the smooth changing of gears difficult.
The accelerator is a bit too light, and difficult to coordinate with the clutch, but the short-throw shift action itself is positive enough, even if it suggests flimsiness.
The 92kW engine is not endowed with massive low-speed torque and requires some encouragement to get going, but at least it is smooth and pleasant with a few revs. It’s also quite deep-throated to listen to, particularly with the roof down, which will delight some and annoy others.
That said, the Tigra performs well enough, certainly rapid off the line if you work at it and acclimatise to the wide gap between first and second gears. It’s smooth and quiet at cruising speed, where 3000rpm yields around 100km/h in fifth gear.
Cabin buffeting, roof down with the wind-blocker in place is minimalised, if not eliminated.
The Tigra also feels pretty taut – always easier with a two-seat convertible – and handles briskly and responsively, although not in a way that will challenge a Mini Cooper or an MX-5.
This is an image-conscious car, not one that is excessively driver-oriented.
The extra weight is also concentrated in the roof, which the sensitive driver will detect as something that makes it feel slightly top-heavy. The optional 17-inch wheels would add a little more verve to the handling and further improve the looks.
But the Tigra, even with its standard 16-inch alloys, is still fun to drive, without any shortcomings to compromise the enjoyment.
The ride, for a small car, is quite compliant and not overly affected by the shortish wheelbase, and the all-disc ABS system, which gets brake assist but not electronic brakeforce distribution, operates quite reassuringly.
The electrically power assisted steering manages to feel more natural than some similar systems.
In its small segment, the Tigra stands out as a neat, pert interpretation of the small hardtop convertible concept that does its job visually while still offering a satisfying driving experience and a decent dose of practicality.
It’s a plaything, certainly, but not a toy.
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